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Wednesday, October 21, 2009


This is from 2 New Scientist articles starting here:

1 The placebo effect when you replace morphine with saline solution but don't tell the saline takes the pain away. Even less understandable - a final twist by adding naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of morphine, to the saline. The shocking result? The pain-relieving power of saline solution disappeared.

2 The horizon problem The distribution of matter in the universe is far more even than we should expect from random chance. Since there has not been time for light to cross the universe we can see, the universe being only about 14 billion years old, it should be impossible, even in theory, for there to be any force which would smooth out the whole thing.

3 Ultra-energetic cosmic rays We have not only detected cosmic rays more powerful than theory should allow to be formed but even if they were formed they should degrade long before they get here.


4 Belfast homeopathy results Results have been found that seem to justify homeopathy. Possibly my prejudice but I suspect they will be found to be unrepeatable & hence wrong.

5 Dark matter At the speed galaxies are spinning centrifugal force should pull them apart. For that not to be the case their gravity would have to be much higher & that means there has to be a lot of matter that we can't see. We can't see it.

6 Viking's methane One of the experiments on the Viking spacecraft produced methane implying life. Others found no sign of life. My guess is there is a better than 50% chance there is life "but not as we know it" which is why the other experiments didn't find it. Antarctic microbes have survived in an artificial martian environment so life can.

next 7 Tetraneutrons
FOUR years ago, a particle accelerator in France detected six particles that should not exist. They are called tetraneutrons: four neutrons that are bound together in a way that defies the laws of physics.

8 The Pioneer anomaly Pioneer 10 & 11 are moving out of the solar system faster than they should be. It is only a tiny effect, 1 ten billionth of a G, but it shouldn't be there. Perhaps there is a hidden planet out there or perhaps it is a genuine new force, or perhaps it is a dark matter effect, whatever that is.

9 Dark energy it is one of the most famous, and most embarrassing, problems in physics. In 1998, astronomers discovered that the universe is expanding at ever faster speeds. It's an effect still searching for a cause - until then, everyone thought the universe's expansion was slowing down after the big bang.

10 The Kuiper cliff IF YOU travel out to the far edge of the solar system, into the frigid wastes beyond Pluto, you'll see something strange. Suddenly, after passing through the Kuiper belt, a region of space teeming with icy rocks, there's nothing.

Astronomers call this boundary the Kuiper cliff, because the density of space rocks drops off so steeply. What caused it? The only answer seems to be a 10th planet. We're not talking about Quaoar or Sedna: this is a massive object, as big as Earth or Mars, that has swept the area clean of debris.

11 The Wow signal IT WAS 37 seconds long and came from outer space. On 15 August 1977 it caused astronomer Jerry Ehman, then of Ohio State University in Columbus, to scrawl "Wow!" on the printout from Big Ear, Ohio State's radio telescope in Delaware. And 28 years later no one knows what created the signal. "I am still waiting for a definitive explanation that makes sense," Ehman says.

Next 12 Not-so-constant constants Light from 12 billion years ago passed through interstellar clouds of metals such as iron, nickel and chromium, and the researchers found these atoms had absorbed some of the photons of quasar light - but not the ones they were expecting.

If the observations are correct, the only vaguely reasonable explanation is that a constant of physics called the fine structure constant, or alpha, had a different value at the time the light passed through the clouds.

But that's heresy. Alpha is an extremely important constant that determines how light interacts with matter - and it shouldn't be able to change. Its value depends on, among other things, the charge on the electron, the speed of light and Planck's constant. Could one of these really have changed?

13 Cold fusion The results on this keep piling up. It may not actually be fusion but something keeps producing energy that physics says it can't do.

2nd Article 14 "Axis of Evil" Instead of finding hot and cold spots randomly spattered across the sky as they expected, the pair's analysis showed that the spots in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) appeared to be aligned in one particular direction through space.

15 Dark Flow a group of galaxy clusters moving at an extraordinary speed towards a small patch of sky between the constellations of Centaurus and Vela. Kashlinsky calls it the "dark flow", in tribute to those other cosmic mysteries dark matter and dark energy.

There is no obvious reason why the clusters should be moving at such breakneck speeds, unless they are experiencing an unusually strong pull from something beyond the visible horizon. But what? The most obvious answer is that there is something big out there, far bigger than anything in our known universe. Such a behemoth would impose a kind of "tilt" on the universe, causing matter to move in one particular direction - as observations of the dark flow suggest.

Something outside the visible universe appears to be pulling on galaxy clusters. But what?

If such cosmic megastructures do exist, though, they merely replace one mystery with another. One of the foundation stones of cosmology is the Copernican principle, which says that there is nothing special about our region of the universe. So if there are megastructures beyond our horizon, there should be megastructures in our patch, too. We haven't seen any.

16 Prehistoric hothouse THE Eocene ran from 56 million to 34 million years ago. Geological evidence from the early and middle part of this period offers troubling news: the average temperature in the tropics at this time could have been as high as 40°C while the poles were at temperatures of 15 or 20°C. None of our climate models accounts for how this

17 Fly-by anomalies NASA's Galileo spacecraft slingshotted around the Earth on its roundabout route to Jupiter. As the probe raced away from Earth, it was travelling 3.9 millimetres per second faster than it should have been, according to NASA's calculations. The biggest such discrepancy recorded, in 1998, affected NASA's NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft, whose speed was boosted by an additional 13.5 millimetres per second. Rosetta has already had a boost: in 2005 it sped up by about 1.8 millimetres per second more than expected as it slingshotted around Earth. Now that is a repeatable result so something is definitely happening. Is it related to the Galileo acceleration? Who knows, but something that our current understanding of physics says can't happen is happening.

18 Hybrid life Not a mystery but unexpected. DNA of lots of sea life shows it results from interbreeding of species. Since most sea life fertilizes externally (cums in the water & hopes the sperm make it) one can see that contact between the sperm of different species must come in contact often. The odds of any successful crossfertilisation must be astronomic but so are the opportunities.

19 Morgellons disease 17th-century physician Thomas Browne. There were no other reported cases, and the disease seemed to disappear. Then, in 2002, the mother of a child with a skin ailment championed its comeback. My guess is it is some sort of allergic reaction or poison rather than an infectious agent which has been dormant in the interim. Indeed just because symptoms are duplicated doesn't mean the cause is.

20 The Bloop A series of very loud (heard 2,000 km away) noises heard, repeatedly, in the summer of 1997 originating off the coast of South America. ??

21 Antimatter Matter & anti-matter should be created in equal amounts & then mutually destroy themselves. So howcome we live in a matter universe?

Experiments in accelerators now tell us that for every 10 billion antiprotons present in the early universe, there were 10-billion-and-one protons. The same tiny imbalance applied to other particles, such as electrons, too. At some point in cosmic history, matter and antimatter met and annihilated. Left behind, those extra particles eventually came together and formed the matter-filled universe we know today. So what created that initial imbalance?

The short answer is that we don't know.

22 Lithium OUR best theories of the early universe also tell us which atoms should have been forged in the first 5 minutes after the big bang. The existing amounts of hydrogen and helium match theory perfectly - so well, in fact, that cosmologists claim this is the best evidence we have for the big bang. Things aren't so good for the third element, lithium, however is different.

When we count up the lithium atoms held in stars, there is only one-third as much of the lithium-7 isotope as there should be. Another isotope, lithium-6, is overabundant: there may be as much as 1000 times too much of it.

So something in the big bang is not adding up.

23 Varying Speed of Gamma Ray Light In 2005, researchers at the MAGIC gamma-ray telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands were studying gamma-ray bursts emitted by the black hole in the centre of the Markarian 501 galaxy, half a billion light years away. The burst's high-energy gamma rays arrived at the telescope 4 minutes later than the lower-energy rays. Both parts of the spectrum should have been emitted at the same time.

So is the time lag due to the high-energy radiation travelling slower through space? That wouldn't make sense: it would contravene one of the central tenets of special relativity.

24 Monopoles Relativity says that monopoles (magnets with only one pole) should exist in nature but we can't find them.

25 Noise from the Edge of the Universe 2008, physicist Craig Hogan at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, was trying to work out how we might test the idea that everything we see as physical reality is the result of a kind of projection from the boundary of the universe. This is known as the holographic principle. Then in came some results that fitted uncannily with this. I don't really understand this one & if I am a projection from the edge of the universe I'm not sure I want to.

26 Nocebo Effect The opposite of placebo effect. People really do get ill by being cursed - doctors diagnosed a man with end-stage liver cancer, and told him he had just a few months to live. Though the patient died in the predicted time, an autopsy showed the doctors had been mistaken. There was a tiny tumour, but it had not spread.

A century ago scientists were sure the universe worked as Newton had said. They thought they were just filling in the gaps. There were a few unexplained things like the Michelson Morley experiment , radioactivity & the fact that it was impossible for the Earth to be more than a few million years old & still have a molten core, but these were all minor technical points of no effect in real life & these anomalies would soon be fitted into the framework. Instead we got relativity, quantum physics, nuclear power & the whole edifice of modern physics.

We may be due another such revolution. The difficulty that has been found in funding "cold fusion" research suggests that, probably because research is so much government funded now & that stultifies progress, we may be overdue such a revolution.

H/T to Pournelle.


Such a contrast with the extraordinary precision with which the climate can be forecast, 50 years hence.
We have been due a revolution in science and technology for something like 50 years. Unfortunately it is the 'keepers of the faith' that are holding everything back and through them the funding.

Way back in the 60s there was a very lively discussion in the Wireless World letter pages because a scientist had the temerity to say the Einstein might have got something wrong. There was also several science fact articles in Analog about that time [example August 1962 - 'the 4th law of motion' by Dr W. O. Daves] that should have been followed up but were squashed instead.

I could carry on with examples of engineering - the Coanda Effect which has only now started to make an appearance long after the man that knew all about it is dead and taken his knowledge with him to the grave.

Unfortunately the way the world is today it is very unlikely that a gentleman scientist could fund self research. The money controls what is looked at and until that changes nothing will advance.
There is some money available for good venture science with a forseable pay off, ie Burt Rutan & the entire computer industry, but life is much easier getting government grants. However yoyu don't get government grants for research that might rock the boat like warming scepticism or Duisberg's AIDs research.
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